It’s true that we Shanghainese don’t really celebrate Chinese New Year because there’s not really anything for us to do! Chinese New Year is just competing who can make the earliest restaurant reservation for Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner [年夜饭], then lying around at home browsing WeChat Moments to see how the rest of the country is celebrating Chinese New Year…. We have no fear of the massive CNY migration [春运], and we’re not allowed to set off fireworks anymore. We don’t like the CCTV New Year’s Gala [春晚], and we don’t have any real traditional customs or local specialty foods. We have few relatives, and the ones we do have, we’re not on great terms with. There are no shops open or any people in the streets.
My immediate reaction was, “wow, this is so true! And sad!” I shared it with my co-workers, and a Shanghainese co-worker’s reaction was:
So true. Sometimes I envy those people crammed into trains just to get home for Chinese New Year.
[I had to take liberties translating 春运.]
This year my family and I will spend Chinese New Year in Japan (again). At first I felt uncomfortable with this. You hear Chinese people say all the time, “Christmas is like you guys’ Chinese New Year,” and while that’s not really true in many ways, it is true in that they both are the year’s biggest holiday in their respective cultures, they both mean a lot to the people of that culture, and they’re both meant to be spent with family. But then how could my wife be OK with running off to Japan (without her parents) instead of spending CNY in Shanghai with them? I would not be OK with blowing off Christmas in similar fashion.
One of the ways I’ve made sense of this cultural issue is reflected in the post above: the Shanghainese really do have a bit of a different take on Chinese New Year, and it has evolved rapidly in recent years (as evidenced by the role of WeChat in the original post). The Shanghainese are different.
My first Chinese New Year was spent in Zhuji (诸暨), Zhejiang Province. It was cold, it was crowded, it was noisy, it was non-stop eating and card-playing and tea-drinking chatting. It was undoubtedly very Chinese. It was pretty fun for me, but as an outsider, it’s not something I would really want to commit to every year (especially if it’s not with my actual family).
Over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m not a huge fan of Chinese New Year festivities. But as the traditions have faded in Shanghai and the holiday is left something of a husk of its former self, I can’t help but feel bad for the Shanghainese.
Well, it’s almost Chinese New Year, and this new one is the year of the dragon. It didn’t escape too many Chinese designers’ notice that it’s pretty easy to turn a “2” into a dragon, so lately we’re seeing a lot of designs like these:
Here’s one that’s a little different:
Not as fun as last year, though! I’m still not a huge fan of this holiday, and it’s getting harder and harder for this country’s residents to go home to it celebrate it properly, but it’s still an interesting time of year.
Happy Chinese New Year! 新年好！ (The new year starts Monday.)
But just to make everything clearer, you might want to check out this PDF calendar (Warning: traditional characters!). Some key vocab:
– 大年三十: Chinese New Year’s Eve
– 春节: Chinese New Year
– 初一: the first of the lunar month (never used more than around CNY)
– 初二: the second of the lunar month
– 初三: the third of the lunar month (see a pattern here?)
OK, now for the sexy part. 2011 is the year of the rabbit. (Really, I’m going somewhere with this; be patient!) I did a little searching for images on the Chinese internet and found this creative graphic:
Also, somewhat to my surprise, my innocent 兔年 (“year of the rabbit”) search turned up some rather sexy pics. The year of the rabbit only comes around once every 12 years, so I’m pretty sure it’s the first time this particular sexied-up CNY theme has appeared in mainland China (it’s referred to as 兔年美女):
And while not all of the Playboy bunny-esque photos floating around online now are actually specifically meant for Chinese New Year, the one above is, as evidenced by the golden thing in the model’s hands, which is a 金元宝 (a gold ingot, an ancient form of money which usually makes appearances in CNY decorations).
I may “hate” Chinese New Year, but it’s inescapable. We also do coverage of it at ChinesePod, of course. This year we did an Elementary lesson on Chinese New Year Firecrackers, but the one I especially liked was at the Advanced level, called 春节采访 (“Chinese New Year Interview”).
I’ve talked about the Advanced lessons on ChinesePod before, and one of the criticisms I got was that the dialogues (which are scripted) seem too fake. I think that’s a valid criticism, and I totally agree with it. The 春节采访 podcast was partly an experiment to see what we could do when we went “totally natural.” Here’s how we did it:
1. The academic team brainstormed questions about the topic (in this case, Chinese New Year), then chose the six most interesting ones
2. We made a list of all the Chinese employees in the office and where they’re from so that we could have a variety of accents in the podcast, then chose 6-8 to interview (being sure to include both male and female)
3. After Xiao Xia interviewed everyone, we narrowed the results down to (1) the most interesting interviewees, and then (2) the most interesting answers, making sure that we kept a balance in both accents and genders
4. The audio production team cut out everything we didn’t need/want
5. The academic team transcribed the final interview audio
6. Jenny and Xiao Xia listened to the audio and used the transcript to go over the interview material for the full podcast
I think the result was a very interesting Chinese New Year podcast. Most of the language wasn’t difficult at all, but there are a few challenging parts that go into lesser known local customs. The “dialogue” part of the podcast was a lot longer than usual, but I’m sure this won’t bother the listeners. As a result of that, though, the transcript was significantly longer than usual.
I think this dialogue was definitely a step in the right direction for a better advanced podcast. The problem is that it takes much longer to create natural content like this; it would be impossible to do it for every podcast. You have to expect to get boring and/or unusable content, so you have to record a lot more and cut out what you don’t want. So that’s a lot of extra time editing, and then transcribing as well. Still, I think there are elements of this process that we can keep using going forward to produce more engaging content.
If any learners have any thoughts on this, I’d be happy to hear them. You probably want to listen to the podcast first (remember that it’s all in Chinese). If you haven’t listened to ChinesePod’s Advanced content lately, you definitely need to check it out.
I am well known for being positive and upbeat about life in China, but sometimes I just have to vent a little. This one is a special case, because when I first arrived in China I was thrilled to be celebrating the real Chinese New Year, with real Chinese people, the authentic way. With each passing year my enthusiasm has faded just a bit more, until it became this colorless loathing for the alpha holiday of the Chinese calendar.
I suppose “hate” is a strong word, but let me just say I’m not fond of the ol’ CNY. (Still, I’m keeping the word “hate” because I’m so sassy.) So now I give you the 10 reasons I hate Chinese New Year, in the order that they come to me:
1. It’s noisy. Yeah, fireworks are fun. Yeah, the Chinese invented them. Yippee. I always thought the best fireworks were the bottle rockets that exploded midair in colorful displays. Well, here in China, the most common kind is firecrackers, or just any kind that isn’t much to look at but makes a lot of noise. This kind is fun in moderation, but “moderation” is entirely out of the question when CNY rolls around. We’re talking non-stop pili-pala (the sound of firecrackers) for days on end. What? You wanted to go to sleep? Too bad. What? You wanted to sleep in past 6am on your vacation? Too bad.
2. It’s dangerous. It should come as no surprise that an environment seething with explosions is not particularly safe. The Chinese aren’t exactly world-renowned for being “safety conscious,” either. If the public pyrotechnics everywhere weren’t bad enough, this is also the time of year when kids have firecrackers too, and they just go around lighting and throwing them at random.
3. It paralyzes the nation. Not being able to get a taxi or go to your favorite restaurant isn’t the end of the world (although, my regular Xinjiang restaurant, I do not forgive you for going back to Xinjiang for CNY an entire month early — I’m pretty sure you didn’t walk back). The problem comes when you try to do anything bureaucratic. Virtually nothing can be accomplished if CNY is even remotely near. It’s all a smile and a mei banfa (there’s nothing we can do). It’s an excuse that’s not only incontrovertible, but one you’re also supposed to be happy about it. You had better hope your visa doesn’t expire right before Chinese New Year, because you’d be screwed.
4. It encourages craptaculars. The Chinese New Year craptacular (春节联欢晚会) is the mother of all Chinese craptaculars. Watching it is not only a family tradition for many, many Chinese families; it almost seems like a patriotic duty. Year after year, I hear people saying, “the craptacular was crappier than ever this year,” and yet they watch it, year after year after year. This horrible TV tradition somehow imbedded itself in the nation’s cultural DNA, and the populace seems resigned to this.
5. It brings out overzealous hospitality. Chinese food is good. Eating is good. But Chinese hosts are infamous for “hospitably” force-feeding their guests, and this is the holiday when that impulse goes into overdrive. You can starve yourself for days, but it will do no good. As the old Chinese proverb goes, “even a large bucket cannot hold the sea.” (OK, I made that up, but it sure makes my point.)
6. It involves lots of Chinese liquor. I like Chinese food, but I will never like Chinese rice wine. This is one of those Chinese holidays where I have to buck up and just drink it. I’d be a dick if I refused. And man, it is nasty.
7. It causes temporal cognitive chaos. I’ve talked about this before. Around CNY, Chinese people refuse to use the solar calendar for a week or two and cognitively switch over to that alternative universe where the moon determines the dates. If you don’t make the temporary crossover with them, you’re in for some serious calendar confusion.
8. It screws over the little guy. At Chinese New Year, everyone goes home to spend the holiday with their families. Oh wait, did I say “everyone”? I meant everyone except for the wage slaves that have to work in the restaurants for the New Year’s Eve dinner because the city folk don’t like to bother celebrating at home anymore. Oh, and except for drivers and operators of essential public transportation. The more commercialized the holiday becomes, the more people that get cheated out of it. This is nothing new to someone from a capitalist nation, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it when I see it happening anywhere.
9. It’s a mass migration the country can’t really handle. It really can’t. One of my co-workers from Guilin will not be spending the holiday with her family for the first time ever because she simply could not get a ticket home. She’s not the only one. It’s just way too many people trying to “go home” all at the same time. It’s the world’s largest human migration, and it’s only getting worse as more and more people move to the big cities to make a living. It’s one hell of a problem for the government, totally cultural in origin.
10. It’s serious pollution. Those fireworks are more than just noisy and dangerous; they’re bad for the environment. Keep in mind that in China there are way more people more densely packed than in the U.S.; the amount of fireworks going off in one night all across the nation is simply staggering. If China didn’t already have such a great handle on its environmental issues, I might be worried. (Oh, wait a minute…)
I have tried for years to warm up to Chinese New Year, but I have stopped trying. My conclusion is that if you didn’t experience Chinese New Year as a child, you’re not going to learn to like it. It’s an exciting holiday for a Chinese kid… you get to see all those fun cousins, eat lots of great food in ridiculous quantities, and receive a hongbao (red envelope full of cash) from all your relatives. As an adult cultural outsider, I really don’t think I have any hope of ever truly enjoying this holiday.
Matt of the Nanjingren blog (one of the newest additions to the Sinosplice Network) came to Hangzhou this weekend with some of his classmates. Unfortunately I was only able to spend one meal with him because my schedule is rather full this weekend. It’s fuller than usual because I’ve been coerced into participating in Zhejiang University of Technology’s 50th Anniversary Craptacular.
I don’t pretend to invent the word “craptacular,” but I’ve noticed it’s already in common usage among foreigners in China for one simple reason: China loves the Craptacular. What do I mean by craptacular? Basically, it’s an onstage event containing a rather long lineup of acts, most of which fall into one of several categories. The defining features of the craptacular are:
Hosts. They always come in gleaming male-female pairs, overflowing with bubbly super-standard Mandarin and armed with smiles that make your eyes ache.
Songs. Solos, duos, or en masse. China loves live singing, be it in the classroom or onstage.
Dances. Minority dances, folk dances, solos, duos, it’s all here. Whoopee.
Comedy. Short skits and crosstalk (相声), a kind of Chinese two-person stand-up comedy. Comedy has a comparatively small role, song and dance hogging the spotlight.
Glitz. Everyone wears bright flashy costumes, the lighting is top-notch, and accompanying stage decorations are a big priority. Whenever possible, craptaculars are recorded on video.
Almost without exception, it’s mind-numbingly awful stuff from the foreigner’s perspective, even if he understands it.
The most famous craptacular in China is the nationally televised Chinese New Year Party (春节联欢晚会). Pretty much every Chinese person I talk to agrees that it gets worse every year, ever reaching new depths of raw bore-power. Yet most Chinese households tune in faithfully every year. (This is one reason I’m not a big fan of Chinese New Year, but I won’t go into that now….) There are minor craptaculars going on all the time for various reasons (or no reason), and you can see them on TV in China all the time. If you have a masochistic streak (or if you just get unlucky as I did in ZhouShan) you can even go see them live. Sometimes universities — tools of the state patriotic entities that they are — put on their own craptaculars. Thus we have come back around to the topic of ZUT’s craptacular.
The students in the advanced Chinese class at ZUT that couldn’t come up with an air-tight excuse were forced to get involved in the foreign students’ event in the 50th Anniversary Craptacular. So, yeah, that means me. We have to put on nice clothes and get up on stage in front of a huge audience and speak Chinese into microphones. Some of us even have to try to be funny in Chinese doing skits onstage. Fortunately that’s not me. I’m just a host.
So I was not happy about this because it involves a big time commitment. Memorizing lines, rehearsing, and performing not once, but three times! So this weekend I’m pretty busy performing onstage for ZUT.
All that negative “craptacular” talk and whining aside, there were some good points about being in the performance:
I got to meet some of the other performers, some of whom are pretty cool people.
Some of the performances really are very good. In particular, I liked two of the songs and the crosstalk performance. Although the crosstalk comedy kind of wore on after a while, it was really easy to understand and quite entertaining.
There were so many hot girls involved. Now that’s entertainment!